The Dark Lady & Walter Scott On ChivalrySaturday, September 10, 2011
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
But now is black beauty's successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,
Fairing the foul with Art's false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland'ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
Sonnet 127, William Shakespeare
|The Dark Lady
The next ingredient in the spirit of Chivalry, second in force only to the religious zeal of its professors, and frequently predominating over it, was devotion to the female sex, and particularly to her whom each knight selected as the chief object of his affection, of a nature so extravagant and unbounded as to approach a sort of of idolatry.The original source of this sentiment is to be found, like that of Chivalry itself, in the customs and habits of the northern tribes, who possessed, even in the rudest state, so many honourable and manly distinctions, over all the other nations in the same stage of society. The chaste and temperate habits of these youth, and the opinion that it was dishonourable to hold sexual intercourse until the twentieth year was attained, was in the highest degree favourable not only to the morals and health of the ancient Germans, but most have contributed greatly to place the females in that dignified and respectable rank which they hold in society. Nothing tends so much to blunt the feelings, to harden the heart, and to destroy the imagination, as the worship of the Vaga Venus in early youth. Wherever women have been considered as the early, willing, and accommodating slaves of the voluptuousness of the other sex, their character has become degraded, and they have sunk into domestic drudges and bondswomen among the poor,—the slaves of a harem among the more wealthy. On the other hand, the men, easily and early sated with indulgencies, which soon lose their poignancy when the senses only are interested, become first indifferent, then harsh and brutal, to the unfortunate slaves of their pleasures. The sated lover,—and perhaps it is the most brutal part of humanity,—is soon converted into the capricious tyrant, like the successful seducer of the modern poet.
"Hard; with their fears and terrors to behold The cause of all, the faithless lover cold, Impatient grown at every wish denied, And barely civil, soothed and gratified."
Habitual indulgence seeks change of objects to relieve satiety. Hence polygamy, and all its brutalizing consequences, which were happily unknown to our Gothic ancestors. The virtuous and manly restraints imposed on their youth were highly calculated to exalt the character of both sexes, and especially to raise the females in their own eyes and those of their lovers. They were led to regard themselves, not as the passive slaves of pleasure, but as the objects of a prolonged and respectful affection, which could only be finally gratified when their lovers had attained the age of mature reason, and as capable to govern and to defend the family which should arise around them. With the young man imagination and sentiment combined to heighten his ideas of a pleasure which nature instructed him to seek, and which the wise laws of his country prevented him from prematurely aspiring to share. To a youth so situated, the maiden on whom he placed his affections became an object of awe as well as of affection; the passion which he indulged for her was of a nature as timid and pure as engrossing and powerful; the minds of the parties became united before the joining of their hands, and a moral union preceded the mere intercourse of the sexes.
Walter Scott - On Chivalry (4th, 5th & 6th editions of the Encylopaedia Britanica, 1815-1824)
When possible even at my advanced age (more advanced, if you are supposed to be one of “those free-lance photographers” whose reputation for women, booze, drugs and travel to exotic places never did apply to me) I like to have some sort of photographic project on hand. In the past it invariably (in spite of what I wrote above between parentheses) involved a woman, preferably a most handsome one, in front of my camera. In most cases that handsome woman would be forced to be in a heated studio as the wearing of clothing was never optional.
At my advanced age of 69 I may be finally facing a project for which I may have no previous experience. My subject is indeed a beautiful woman. Not only that, she is intelligent, perceptive and highly articulate.
But consider a recent communication from her:
I've also had the beginnings of an idea recently. I bite my nails, and have for as long as I can remember, and it's something that I consciously make an effort to hide, at least to some extent, when I'm acting or modeling. I feel like, to this point, I've only ever been photographed as a pretty young woman, idealized in form. What would it be like to be photographed as a flawed young woman? Does that make sense?
And a few days ago when we had coffee to discuss a plan of attack she told me something like this:
Here I was as an extra in a film, in a bikini, with my feet in a pool in the sun while I was reading the Iliad. I was surrounded by all these men who must have been thinking the obvious, “What an attractive woman and…” “I felt like telling them all to f--- off!” She further added that as an actor (one of those feminists!) she has to be seen as being attractive and being desired and wanted by all men an that is part of the package of being an actor.
|Object of Awe
That set me to thinking. The first thought that came to mind is the uncomfortable feeling I get when I see a young woman walking in my direction on a street. As she approaches I make my quick scan (Star Treck-like “working”) to determine if she is attractive. As she approaches I watch her look down and almost physically compress herself into a smaller package and I can almost hear the shields (Star Treck-like “shields engaged” ) go up. If the young woman is well proportioned I have to put effort to refrain from turning my head as she passes by. I wonder if this discomfort on my part is that I am now an old man? As I once read, “A woman is as old as she looks and a man is old when he stops looking.”
My experience in walking the streets of my hometown of Buenos Aires (even recently) is different. Women there look you in the eye as they pass by. Could it be that they are more used to the idea of men being leering beings?
Could my new photographic subject be tired of being considered just pretty when she feels she has a lot more to offer? Like most women does she believe that men only want one thing? My father once gave me the following advice, “Alex, tell a beautiful woman that she is smart and tell a smart woman that she is beautiful.” I wonder how he hooked my mother.
All the above leaves me in a conundrum of action. I have determined that unflattering lighting is not the route to take. Showing a woman’s physical flaws goes against my grain. The correct route is going to be more difficult for her than for me. That desire to be seen as a “flawed young woman” is going to have to come from inside. It will be up to me to somehow show that in my photographs. I look forward to the experience and the challenge.